Ah, so Sydney it’ll be. After spending an inordinate amount of time inviting family and friends to a largely expense paid vacation in exotic Malaysia aboard Escape Velocity, we were honored with a proffered week in one of our favorite towns with two of our favorite people, Diana and Alex formally of Enki ll. It’ll count as a reset for our Malayian visas as well. Weighing the pros and cons took about two, maybe three seconds. The mountain goes to Mohammed.
Marce started the insanely frustrating process called booking an airline ticket in 2019. Of course we have a few complications such as, and I’ll be generous here, spotty internet in Rebak, and maybe even less cell “service”. Turns out the month that you want to fly is critical as is the date and day of the week. I never knew the hour of departure could effect the price of one’s ticket to the degree it apparently does and of course we have to factor in the schedule of our little ferry to and from Rebak, without which we aren’t going anywhere. Suffice it to say you really don’t want Yours Truly anywhere near this process.
It was about at this time we realized that it’s winter in the land down under, we have no warm clothes and they don’t offer much, if anything, in the way of thermal wear here. It’s damn hard to find anything that even fits a reasonably healthy Yankee frame in Langkawi.
Being the packrats that we are we came up with what we hoped would be enough layers for what the weatherman said was a seasonably moderate 5 – 15°C…whatever that is.
Marce accomplished her usual magic, coming up with red eye flights to and from Sydney, which allowed for our Rebak to Langkawi ferry schedule while getting us to OZ mid morning.
We found Sydney sunny and clear but predictably cold after being efficiently stamped, inspected, welcomed, and shot out of the transportation end of the terminal. Well, that was easy and we weren’t separated or locked up in a dog cage as others seem to want to do.
It was all quite familiar all the way to Rozelle by train and bus, and when that cheerful door opened it was hugs all around. It feels like home.
Word came up from down under. Down under the sink that is. It’s never good news to hear that it’s wet down under the sink. There’s a lot of tortured plumbing jammed in under the sink and access, if you can call it that, is minimal at best. You’ve got the union of the twin sinks that drain somewhere down there. Freshwater hot and cold faucet with spraying hose, and taps, drinking water filter and faucet which likes to leak, foot pump and its faucet, and the main freshwater pressure pump, which runs the whole works. Have I mentioned I really hate plumbing?
Most of the connections have to be “Micky-Moused” because the authorities have decreed that there will be no compatibility between home and boat systems, thread type, or hose and hose clamps to whatever the hell kind of fittings various countries around the world use. In short I have to fix it with whatever I can find, wherever we are.
Long story short, after removing our medium sized garbage bin, an awesome collection of cleaning products, a rusty spray can of WD40, rags (mostly worn out tee shirts), spare garbage bags and crap I’ve already forgotten about, I found a small puddle of water which had collected under our beloved smart sensor freshwater pressure pump. This pump has quietly been supplying water to the entire boat since 2004. Definitely some kind of record. If you’ve ever experienced the racket the typical water pressure pump makes in a boat you’d know how treasured a truly quiet one is.
I start by dipping a finger in the puddle. Every captain has to do this; it’s in the bylaws I think. Is it fresh or is it salty? Which means are we sinking or do I just have a plumbing problem? I immediately set about trying to find the source of the drip. There was no squirting involved. None of the fittings would give up the source, but there the puddle would remain. Sadly, and I do mean sadly, I started to remove our beloved pump.
As I’ve said before it’s always the pressure switch and I hated to be right again but there it was, dripping. Still, it works fine except for the drip so back under the sink cabinet with a small collection bowl strategically placed under our smart sensor Shurflo quiet pump.
After due research we found that many others have gone before us in this quest only to find that Shurflo, in their infinite wisdom, have redesigned the pump and the pressure switch is not retroactively compatible with anything older than 2006.
Maybe someone around here will have one last old Shurflo pressure switch. What are the odds? We add it to the “to buy” list. In the mean time I think it’s your turn to empty the bowl.
There are many things that suck upon realizing that your anchor chain has rusted to the point that it’s a shadow of its former self. We normally live on the hook so having a significant weakness in ground tackle is untenable. We last replaced our chain in Grenada. American made ATCO chain was always the gold standard, but by 2013 their quality had slipped badly and scuttlebutt had it that an Italian company called Maggi used old world galvanizing techniques with consistent chain sizing at a semi reasonable price. I talked the marina at Clarks Court Bay into allowing me to tie up to their dock, had the chandlery deliver all 275 feet of 10mm chain, which they dumped into a tangled pile at the head of their pier. Escape Velocity was just 200 feet away. Mark from Macushla and I had to hand all 416 lbs of chain into the most decrepit wobbly wheelbarrow you’ve ever seen. I’ve gotten used to boat yard carts and wheelbarrows since then and I can tell you they’re all the same. Loosy goosey, bent axles are par for the course and I don’t know why but the tires are almost always virtually flat, too.
So what we have is Yours Truly trying to herd Clark Court Bays’ wobblybarrow with a nearly flat tire loaded with 416 lbs of anchor chain over a semi floating bucking dock, knowing that if I dump the chain it would disappear into the briny deep faster than you can yell, “Hey grab that end!” I made it, fed the chain into the windlass and stepped on the up button and Bob’s your uncle.
That was then. Turns out that was the easy one.
I recently end-for-ended the anchor chain on Escape Velocity, noting that the section that we’d been using had really lost a lot of material and was rusting badly. “Just in time,” I said, knowing full well that it wasn’t long for the world, especially if we enter into a deep anchorage and have to get into the weak part of the chain. While poking around the only decent chandlery in Kuah, Langkawi, I saw a drum of sparkly galvanized Canadian anchor chain made by Rocna, the same people that made our beloved anchor. We had to special order the length we needed so I started a low intensity inquiry as to the best way to get 416 lbs of chain from Langkawi over 10 miles of ocean to Rebak Island, which is where EV has been safely moored. In the meantime we have been doing a lot of traveling and it’s so easy to let things slip.
Long story short, there is no easy way to get 416 lbs of slippery Rocna chain from Kuah to Rebak without doing the 20 mile do-si-do in Escape Velocity which now sprouts an air conditioner balanced over the saloon hatch, extensive electrical cabling, a spiders web of docklines, plus having to pay a Royal ransom to the Royal Lankawi Yacht Club for an hour of precious dock time, billed in half day increments.
That’s when I came up with the Over Lord Plan, last seen to great effect on D-day. With our friend Mike we’d take the early ferry across to the Cenang Ferry Jetty, up the long ramp to rent a car from Mr. Din, drive a half hour into Kuah, and this is where the first miracle takes place, haul 416 lbs of shiny New Zealand chain 100 feet out to the Mr. Din special on a wobbly wheeled, bent axle hand truck. We couldn’t lift the barrel up into the the back seat so we pulled most of the chain out and spread it out evenly over the back of the car and found a way to get the rest of the barrel up into the car.
Off we chugged back the half hour to the jetty ramp. This is the site of the next miracle. After repacking the barrel we shoved, wheeled, and just plain wrestled the bastard down to where the special boat was supposed to meet us.
Shortly Capt. Haris came putting into the jetty dock, site of our next miracle. Capt. Haris directed the hauling of the bastard barrel off the dock across a foot of water onto his small fishing boat. Not a big man but apparently big where it counts.
For our last miracle we had to hand out enough chain to wrestle the bastard barrel onto the docks.
I gave the old rusty chain to wiry Capt. Haris and after lunch I set about making depth marks with colorful little plastic biscuits on EVs new anchor chain.
It definitely doesn’t suck to have anchor rode that you trust in your anchor locker.
Dear Escapees, In the interest of full transparency I have to confess that I’d first noticed, of all things, a mandolin hanging high on a string in the corner of a tiny six foot wide music shop, just a few blocks from our hotel, if you can call them blocks. You couldn’t see it from the street. I reached up and unhooked the tuner heads from a string, that’s when Marce turned to go. I said, “Hey how about that? it’s a nice mandolin.” I could imagine her massive eye roll even from behind. I asked the proprietor, “How much?” He adopted that pained expression all Vietnamese vendors can call up instantly. After pointing out the instrument’s features he smiled and said one million five hundred dong. I smiled and handed the instrument back to him.
I confess it wore on me. It was bigger than me, It called to me so much during our Ha Long trip that I pulled up my currency converter app figuring when I get back I could probably get him down to one million dong so that’s all I’ll take with me and if he won’t come down in price, I can’t get it. See how that works? It won’t be my fault, it’ll be fate. A kismet kinda thing. After all, what’s a million dong? Like $42 USD. What’s the worst that could happen? So as soon as we get back to our hotel room I ask M. if she’s up for a little walk, because I haven’t a clue where music row is. No. Ok I won’t be long. Johnny FairPlay here.
Look, there is no place I’ve found on this earth where it’s easier to get more profoundly lost than Hanoi. Somehow I stumble into the same music shop but he’s not there. Only his bitchy daughter is and she doesn’t care whether she sells this thing or not. Finally I resort to where’s the old guy? That’s when he walks in. Kismet, right? Initially he’s resistant to the one million dong concept, but with a beautiful example of pained proprietor face he eventually agrees. Now where is the case? Bitchy daughter looks through a large tub loaded with gig bags and hands me a cheap black bag with Ukulele stenciled in bold white letters. She wants 30,000 dong which is about $1.25 USD but I don’t have it. An even more pained version from the old guy who glances at his daughter then motions that I should go now.
Shopping in Vietnam is exhausting but if you’re successful in getting your price it can leave you feeling ebullient and alive.
Feeling especially alive I head toward Hoan Keim Lake and the most reliable ATM I know of. Get a million dong on the first try and watch powder blue uniformed street sweepers line up and do warm up exercises. This is a crazy intersection featuring seven roads leading into a large square of mayhem. There are no traffic signals, not that anyone would obey them. I decide to celebrate with a sidewalk table, a beer and a banh mi and just watch the show. Have a Graham Green moment. Just then a familiar face walks by. It’s my kayaking partner from Ha Long Bay. Of all the gin joints in Hanoi…etc. We sip a couple of cold Tigers and watch the madness with bemused smiles on our faces.
Full disclosure, I might have had several coldies but my story is that it was just two and I’m sticking to it.
Once again the back and forthing, the “maybe this” or “how about that?” even the “should we go or should we stay?” was driving us crazy. There were so many companies and combinations of packages that finally we just threw ourselves on the mercy of the concierge at our hotel thinking they really didn’t want guests coming back pissed off from a bad experience.
Two days and one night on a sixteen cabin bay steamer. It’s really the only way to appreciate this UNESCO World Heritage site, but they aren’t giving these berths away and we’ll lose two precious days in Hanoi. It was a tough decision because let’s face it, we spend every night sleeping on a boat and we’ve seen a few islands in over 30,000 nm of sailing.
The morning of the tour we were contemplating a second leisurely run through our hotel’s buffet breakfast when the concierge came up to our table and informed us that instead of an 8:30 pickup they will be here in 15 minutes! They weren’t but it was a close thing. We were the first pickup so our little bus trundled a circuitous route through downtown Hanoi for nearly an hour to stop at half dozen other hotels to collect the rest of our fellow passengers, mostly young couples.
Unfortunately it was a gray day so not much to look at as we drove out of town and we were informed that we would be making a comfort stop in two hours. When we finally pulled off the road at a rest area I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that in reality it was a massive souvenir shop and we were to make our way through the gift gauntlet to meet our bus on the other side. Immediately we were overwhelmed by massive sculptures and giant polished mineral boulders. Our personal sales associate, noticing our astonishment, leaned in and assured us in a conspiratorial tone, “We ship anywhere in the world!”
By the time we waded through acres and acres of every kind of Vietnamese souvenir we found the checkout counters and that’s when Marce discovered a large display of Pepperidge Farm products. It had been awhile. I guess by the time you get to checkout without your own personal mineral boulder you are not considered a high roller but they’ve just got to get something out of you…and they did. Cheddar Goldfish crackers at 187,000 dong ($8/bag.)
We piled into the little bus and another two hours later disgorged into the ship’s launch which took us and our luggage out to our boat and a sun-dappled lunch. Our room had classic louvered doors, an en suite bathroom and a tiny private balcony. It looked a proper bay steamer stateroom. Soon we were underway, navigating around small islands shaped like gigantic dragon teeth as far as the eye can see.
Of course the Vietnamese have creation myths about how Ha Long Bay was made, naturally involving gigantic dragons descending into the bay and something about swirling its tail making at last count well over 3000 limestone islands. The Bay encompasses 1,500 sq. km. so in two days there’s only so much of it you’re going to see.
A few hours later we anchored in the lee of a shapely spike of limestone and were shuttled by launch to a small fishing village for a bit of kayaking and a visit to a pearl farm.
Back aboard our boat we were ready for a beautiful sunset but as the sun sank lower a misty fog moved in and only a glass of wine could console us.
Dinner was abundant and well presented, with extra sides for Marce and the other vegetarians. While we were the oldest couple on the boat, as we usually are these days, we seemed to be accepted and included. We passed on Asia’s obsession with karaoke, our scheduled nighttime entertainment, and retired to our cabin and our Pepperidge Farm goldfish.
In the morning we steamed for an hour or so in the rain to another island and while the rest of the guests visited a cave, M and I stayed onboard to appreciate the scenery in peace and quiet while we could.
For the rest of the morning we motored back through the islands to the harbour in increasingly bleak weather. Towards the end the kitchen staff gave a cooking demonstration and the guests learned how to make spring rolls which became part of our lunch. And just like that we were at anchor, piled into the launch and into a bus for the 4-1/2 hour ride to Hanoi.
Back at the hotel the concierge eagerly awaited the verdict. Thoroughly enjoyable, we assured him.
I don’t know about you but I honestly haven’t a clue what made us suddenly veer across the street and book a ride over the Hai Van pass. This has been the subject of numerous discussions, and there are literally hundreds of tiny tour vendor booths in Hoi An and I guess we’d had enough of “on the other hand” and “but this one’s 23,000 dong cheaper,” which turns out to be about one USD less. It’s a matter of trust because you have to ride over the pass in a private car. Even the two seemingly disembodied legs sticking out from under the counter at the the tour booth didn’t deter us. Will our driver speak English? A little, which in Vietnamese speak means not at all.
Ok, what’s for dinner?
The next morning, feeling fat and lethargic after taking full advantage of the free full breakfast buffet, we had time to go over the free brochure provided and it turns out they’ve thrown in a free stop at a venue called Marble Mountain, which in fact is five mountain peaks so I guess the other four are also free. Our car arrived on time and whisked us off towards The Marvelous Marble Mountains. On arrival we were encouraged to enter through the marvelous Marble Mountains souvenir and carved marble statuary shop. The sculptures were massive, and any of them could sink Escape Velocity.
Luckily our assigned sales associate kept us in close proximity in case we forgot what we were there for. She gave a constant stream of helpful hints like, “We ship anywhere in the world!”
The good news at the mountain is that instead of a typical thousand-step staircase to reach the caves, all one has to do is push button number six in the not so free elevator provided and sure as Bob’s your uncle, there you are.
A short stroll along the cliff side led to, wait for it, 176 steps to access the actual caves.
In this part of the world China is king but really, how many dragons can you marvel at without losing your mind? Yours Truly has a finite limit and I suppose that goes for Buddhas, lying or otherwise, pictures of Jesus, Mary, and the whole entourage. It’s amusing to watch the multitudes line up under shafts of sunlight filtering down through holes in the ceiling only to strike a beatific pose bathed in its holy light.
So where was I?
Ah caves, and this one has an interesting history. It turns out the North Vietnamese used these caves as a hideout and hospital holding many hundreds of soldiers, right under the noses and within earshot of an American air base outside of Da Nang. Of course back then there was no number six button on an elevator. Ropes and rock climbing got them up into the caves and local partisans kept them resupplied.
On the way back down we successfully avoided the Marvelous Marble Mountains souvenir and carved marble sculpture shops’ aggressive sales people and, back in the car, conversation was muted due to the fact that only two of us understood any English.
Suddenly the driver’s navigation gear, which heretofore had been largely silent, piped up in what sounded a lot to Marce like heavily accented English. What it said, I couldn’t tell you but it seemed to be repeating the same phrase. Marce’s best guess was “Ess. Key. Car. Islam. eWreck. Ted.” I thought it was just Vietnamese for “Turn left here.”
We’re off to the Hai Van Pass. At 4,000 feet it’s said to have the most spectacular view in all of Vietnam and it’s why you take a private car to Hué instead of the bus at one fifth the price, which goes through a tunnel at sea level. We’ve been looking forward to this all week.
(Oops, there it is again. “Ess. Key. Car. Islam. eWreck. Ted.” Now it’s repeating every two minutes.)
Whoa, what a great view! We ask the driver to pull over for a photo op which takes a while due to language problems.
The higher we go up the mountain the more misty it gets. Back in the car it’s “Ess. Key. Car. Islam. eWreck. Ted.” with increasing frequency. Finally we summit in the clouds in a chilly mist with a view of fifty feet.
On foot we continue to climb and stumble onto a machine gun pillbox which I thought was a nice touch to crown the top of the mountain.
We declined a suggested trip through the mountaintop souvenir shop so there was nothing to it but to start down the other side.
“Ess. Key. Car. Islam. eWreck. Ted.”
Soon we began to snicker trying to come up with better possibilities. After a while our driver noticed our laughter and reached up to the nav unit and popped out a tiny micro SD chip. Marce took one look and said, “Aha! SD card is not detected!” Mystery solved, but despite the driver’s frequent attempts to shut the damn thing up, that was our soundtrack for the next 3-1/2 hours, until we reached Hué.
On paper it looked easy peasy. The goal was to decamp Saigon, grab a ride to the Saigon airport, fly to Da Nang Airport, grab a ride into Hoi An, check in and be comfortably ensconced, feet up, ready for the start of the Baku Formula 1 Grand Prix on Fox Sports. Of course we all know that paper will sit still for anything.
The Grab ride went off without a hitch, always a first class car with good air conditioning. Upon opening the glass airport doors the vibe was chaos. Screaming toddlers in various stages of despair clogged the aisles and I made a quick prayer to the flying gods that the whole lot of them aren’t going to Da Nang. We were flying Vietnam Airlines and after fighting our way to a departure monitor we found our flight to be one of the few that were still listed as “on time.” With a heavy sigh of relief we had two hours to wait, but first let’s find an area free of mama’s little helpers. Oops! I stood up and several rug rats scampered into my seat.
While having a bit of a nosh, Marce thought she heard something about a flight to Da Nang. Sure enough, checking the departure monitor we found a short delay. In Vietnam there’s no such thing as a short delay, especially on Vietnam Airlines whose speciality seems to be confusion. Whoa, that was a nasty half gainer into a full face plant for the screaming little duffer. Yes the feet you failed to notice were mine. Doesn’t anyone own you? I noticed our gate no longer listed our Da Nang flight. Now he’s pointing Yours Truly out to his mother.
We waited in several long lines only to be kicked out at the last minute and told to wait over there. The monitor over our gate never changed but our circumstances continued to evolve. Now he’s shooting me with a transformer action figure. Frustrated fellow flyers started to ask me what happened to our flight as the delays began to stack up. Squeak squeak squeak, my god the little angel has shoes that light up and squeak with every halting step. Is this necessary?
Our two hour cushion evaporated into deficit and while hope springs eternal I began to make peace with not seeing the Grand Prix. We moved a good distance from what we thought was our gate due to screaming seemingly unsupervised little darlings running roughshod over the airport. A message flashed on the departure screen stating that there may be delays due to the lateness of our plane’s arrival.
Here’s another little screamer but this one is dressed up like a crying lady bug with antenna sticking out of its head. The time continued to slip until we noticed our gate had been changed. Finally our plane arrived and we lined up for a jam-packed nuts-to-butts bus ride out to where they’d parked it. I couldn’t help but check the time every few minutes.
When we landed in Da Nang I think we made it clear to our Grab driver that we were in a hurry to get to Hoi An. The traffic was bad but he did his best, tapping out a more or less constant staccato rhythm with the horn button, but then so was everyone else, which blended into a caucalphony of noise that we’ve learned is the soundtrack of Vietnam.
We did make it for the last half of the Grand Prix. For this weary traveler, Hoi An will have to wait until tomorrow.
The closer we came back to Rebak Island the closer we got to a date with the hardstand and days of bunny suits, sanding, eating the dust of our three year old bottom paint mixed with the hard shell remains of several thousand barnacles who chose to hitchhike with us on EV rather than drift aimlessly about the ocean. On the flight back we flew at a very low altitude directly over Escape Velocity gently tugging at her lines. We looked at each other and mumbled “she swims” which I imagine every relived boat owner says after being away from his vessel.
I’d like to say that we hit the ground running but I can’t.
First we have the Grand Quest.
I don’t know how I could have left the US with just one set of power tools. No one mentioned this to me. Magazines, conversation, or books…no one. Heartsick at having to strip painfully down to an inadequate collection of 120v tools, I find that the rest of the world does just fine with 240v power tools. So what I’m hearing is that I need two sets of power tools. Now, for normal occasional use I simply use our 120v inverter and Bob’s your uncle. But sanding all day every day is not going to happen on a solar-powered boat. On the hard in 240v land we can’t plug in to the yard’s juice and we can’t run our generator when we’re out of the water, so it’s up to the sun. I had the yard run a 240v line for a sander and a small rented window air conditioner but we still didn’t have a proper 240v random orbiting sander. After searching at every local hardware store we eventually found a heavy duty sander at a Chinese shop in Kuah.
First up was a complete redesign of EV’s raw water cooling system with dedicated thru- hulls instead of trying to suck cooling water up through the clog-prone sail drives. I added strainers just after the raw water pumps to trap any rubber bits in case of a disintegrating impeller, kind of a suspenders and belt solution.
Every skipper, when passing EV said, “Hey! She looks really good for being out three years!” Maybe so but we’d promised ourselves a slippery bottom this time. I have to agree that she did look pretty good. No blisters, no flaking paint, no glaring problems. Ah, dreams.
Our hot tip on attempting to use stripper to remove the heavy coats of antifouling paint involved multiple layers of plastic wrap in an attempt to keep the goop from drying out. When it failed a fair test, we switched to exhaustive scraping with chisels kept razor sharp by Yours Truly.
In a few days I threw in the towel. No mas!
In full bunny suit, goggles, and a better than average mask, I started grinding with our new heavy duty 240v sander. I find the trick here is to go to your happy place and stay there until it’s over. What’s the worst that could happen?
Monkeys, that’s what. Monkeys rifling through the garbage at the end of the dock? No, that’s kind of cute. The rascals send one of the bigger fellas dumpster diving and every so often he’d pop up and hand off something deemed good enough. After a thorough investigation he’d jump out of the can neglecting to close the lid, with something I suspect he’d been holding out on the troop for his own stash, like a couple of rotten bananas I threw out that morning.
We’ve come upon this same troop walking on Rebak and they can get a little aggressive if they perceive a threat to all the cute wee ones scurrying about the path and in low hanging branches. After all it’s their jungle.
What I’m talking about is a large long tailed Macaque sitting in our cockpit munching on one of our onions like an apple, staring at us through our glass door while we’re eating dinner. When I looked up, our eyes met and he bared his large yellow fangs. Gulp! A quick inventory of my weapon stash flashed through my mind. No, he has our water hose out there. A carved Marquesan war club?…too short. A Vanuatan hollow stick drum?…it’s just wrong. Food prep knives?…way too short. Flare pistol?…no need to burn the joint down. No, this is a job for Yours Truly who will announce his presence with authority.
Upon opening the door I was met with an unholy howl and a lunge in my general direction. I’m happy to report no blood was spilled, discounting any bruises and contusions due to the retreat and premature closing of the cabin door. Let’s agree to call our first skirmish a draw in place. Now, I won’t pretend to know anything about monkey psychology but I am a keen observer of animal behavior and I’d say our friend here, after finishing his onion, is overwhelmed with ennui or maybe he’s just looking for some action but I was sure I detected a small movement toward the ladder. That’s when I struck. I opened the door a crack and screamed something abusive. It may have involved his mother. That last bit seemed to work and our Humble Skipper courageously leaped out into the cockpit to take possession. The bugger did turn around indignantly when he mounted the ladder as if to burn my face into his memory. Chilling.
Now that I am known as the Monkey King I wonder if I can teach the troop to sand?
The thing about brutally murdering one out of every four of your country’s citizens, concentrating on judges, artists, musicians, dancers, and the most educated and productive in the land, is that the gap created in collective memory is severed and so profound that it’s almost impossible to reconstruct. The few survivors of Pol Pot labored long and hard to rebuild their tragically lost culture, in some cases going so far as having to explain to the citizens why the dance was so important to Khmer Culture.
We saw a banner advertising a traditional dance program at the theater in the National Museum complex and booked seats after a day of touring the Killing Fields. We’d seen a lot of Indonesian and Malaysian dance this season, usually as a welcome ceremony for us cruisers so we were curious to see Cambodian dance. The good news was that the center was just a block from our hotel.
The performance was preceded by a beautiful and inspiring film on the national effort to regain their cultural roots. Aging artists, musicians and dancers who had survived the genocide were identified and brought together with young aspiring performers to rebuild the generational links and pass on the traditional arts.
From the first movement of the newly minted dancers I was struck by how strangely familiar some of the poses were and then it hit me. We’d just just spent four days staring in awe at bas-relief warriors and dancers carved into the ancient sandstone walls of Angkor Wat doing much the same thing.
Most of the pieces featured the noble Khmer peasants harvesting rice, or planting rice, or eating rice.
These are the same peasants Pol Pot browbeat into becoming the fearsome heartless murderers of the Khmer Rouge. Hard to understand but there it is. These are the people that brought us the Killing Fields but after the Vietnamese overthrew the Khmer Rouge, other than a few leaders, there was very little revenge killing. Even Pol Pot was left to his own devises, dying of old age in a little town up in the mountains, kind of a “we’ll leave you alone if you leave us alone arrangement.”
Seeing the bright, enthusiastic faces of these young performers erased much of the horror we learned about earlier in the day and we joined them in celebrating the human spirit.
Mr Man tuktuked us to the airport in plenty of time to catch our flight to Phnom Penh. Two hours to check in for a 45 minute flight. Legend has it that a woman named Penh found four images of the Buddha on the shores of the Mekong River and built a temple on the tallest hill in the area in which to keep them. The city that grew up around the hill became known as Phnom Penh or ‘Penhs Hill.’ The city sits at the confluence of four rivers: the Upper Mekong, the Lower Mekong, the Sap, and the Bassac. The Khmers call it Chatomuk, or four faces.
We had only the sketchiest outline of a plan. It kind of read something like; get settled in, reconnoiter the colonial French quarter, check out a possible Mekong River cruise, meditation session for M, avoid the very graphic torture museum but find the Killing Fields memorial and hit the National Museum. We call it winging it.
We found the Okay Boutique Hotel “with city view.”
It was okay but our view was not.
They eventually moved us to the ninth floor but couldn’t accommodate the extra two days we added just to make sure we were in compliance with the Malaysian “get lost” rules needed to renew our visas.
We decided to hit the ground running this time so after a long exploratory walk we found ourselves in the French quarter at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Cambodia featuring large photojournalist pictures on the walls and unsurpassed views across the Sap and Mekong Rivers.
Here, and really everywhere, Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge, and the horrors of genocide were just below the surface. If it can happen here to these peaceful, kind people it can happen anywhere.
Marce had once again found several highly rated vegetarian restaurants all within walking distance of our hotel but, in a major miracle, she found a tiny hole in the wall eatery serving superb authentic Ethiopian cuisine, a particular favorite of ours.
Now about that city view. A move up to the ninth floor solved the view problem and that’s the Mekong River off in the distance. The Royal Palace is on the right. Definitely better.